Big Ten

Week 9 Big Ten previews: Harbaugh looks to take back Little Brown Jug

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Week 9 Big Ten previews: Harbaugh looks to take back Little Brown Jug

Last season, Minnesota won the Little Brown Jug for just the second time since 1987.

But this season is looking a lot different than last season.

Michigan is playing at a terrific level, boasting the nation's best defense. Minnesota is one of the worst Power 5 teams when it comes to scoring points.

Jim Harbaugh has things turned around in a hurry in Ann Arbor. Jerry Kill's sudden retirement due to health concerns means a period of uncertainty in the Twin Cities.

It sure looks like Michigan is primed to reclaim the Little Brown Jug, but that's why they play the games, right? It'll surely be an emotional weekend for Minnesota in the wake of Kill's retirement.

Here's a look at all the Big Ten games this weekend. As always, all games are on Saturday and all times are Central.

Illinois at Penn State, 11 a.m., ESPN 2

The Illini offense is struggling, and that’s not a good sign going up against a fearsome Nittany Lions defense. With a long list of injuries, Illinois hasn’t been able to do what it wants behind Wes Lunt. The receiving corps is depleted, same goes for the group of tight ends, and starting running back Josh Ferguson will miss his third straight game with a shoulder injury. The team has barely amassed 100 combined rushing yards over the past two games without Ferguson.

Meanwhile, save a run in with the No. 1 team in the country, the Penn State defense has continued the great performance it had last season. The Lions rank 22nd in the country with 318.6 total yards allowed per game. The fun stat going around the Internet for this matchup: Penn State leads the country with 31 sacks, while Illinois leads the Big Ten with just eight sacks allowed. The old “something’s got to give” line certainly applies. But with Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson, the Lions have the upper hand in star power.

The pick: Penn State

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini running back Josh Ferguson to miss third straight game]

Nebraska at Purdue, 11 a.m., ESPN U

No Tommy Armstrong for Nebraska is a huge problem. Or it would be if the opponent was anyone but Purdue. Armstrong has what head coach Mike Riley is calling a “turf-toe deal” that will keep the quarterback out of this weekend’s game, a huge loss considering the guy is practically a three-year starter and the second-leading passer in the Big Ten. It also means Ryker Fyfe will get the first start of his collegiate career. Not exactly the situation the Huskers want to be as they attempt to avoid loss No. 6.

But if any game is the one where you have to lose your starting quarterback, the game against Purdue would be it. The Boilermakers are getting run over on an almost weekly basis at this point and can’t seem to do much of anything on the offensive side of the ball. The Huskers have one of the better run defenses in the conference, but they also have the worst pass defense. What it means is David Blough will have to do all the heavy lifting if the Boilers are going to win, and Blough has more interceptions than touchdowns this season. In the battle of the inexperienced quarterbacks, Nebraska has an advantage running the ball and stopping the run.

The pick: Nebraska

[MORE BIG TEN: Struggling Huskers will be without QB Tommy Armstrong vs. Purdue]

Rutgers at Wisconsin, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

The injuries are getting serious on the offensive side of the ball for the Badgers. They lost center Dan Voltz for the season last weekend, and wide receiver Robert Wheelwright is sidelined, too. Running back Corey Clement still might not be ready to return to the field as he continues to recover from sports hernia surgery. But at least Joel Stave is expected back after getting knocked out of last week’s game. Still, it’s not pretty, and wide receiver Alex Erickson might have to do much of the heavy lifting.

Thankfully for Wisconsin, it still boasts one of the best defenses in the country, ranking eighth in the country, allowing just 279.9 yards per game. Surprisingly, though, Rutgers ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 426.6 total yards per game. Chris Laviano has been silently putting together a nice season at quarterback, boasting the second-highest QB rating in the conference. When Leonte Carroo is on the field, those two can hook up in a hurry, and it doesn’t take many plays for the score to explode. But shootouts haven’t been all that common an occurrence, especially against great defenses.

The pick: Wisconsin

[MORE BIG TEN: Joel Stave goes through concussion protocol, cleared to practice]

Maryland at No. 10 Iowa, 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN 2

Undefeated Iowa is looking to stay undefeated, and though the Hawkeyes are banged up, the Terps don’t seem to provide too much of a threat. Now, this matchup went Maryland’s way last season, but that was last season, which has proved to be so much different for this year’s Iowa team. The Hawkeyes will be without Jordan Canzeri this weekend, meaning the run game will rely on Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell, but the team’s Nos. 3 and 4 backs combined for 283 yards and five touchdowns in Iowa’s last game vs. Northwestern.

Maryland showed some fight in last weekend’s one-point loss to Penn State, the first game after the Randy Edsall Era came to a close. But despite success against a really good Penn State defense — the 30 points were the most the Lions have surrendered all season — quarterback Perry Hills still had five turnovers, including three interceptions. Iowa not only boasts the No. 12 defense in the country (294.3 yards allowed per game) but also leads the Big Ten in interceptions with nine. Could be a long day for Hills, one of three Maryland QBs to combine for 20 picks this season.

The pick: Iowa

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Hawkeyes gear right here]

No. 15 Michigan at Minnesota, 6 p.m., ESPN

It’s a tough week for Minnesota, as just days after Jerry Kill announced his retirement due to health concerns at an emotional press conference, the Gophers will have to line up against the country’s best defense. The effect of Kill’s retirement remains to be seen, as this is the type of thing that can either emotionally wreck a team or cause them to rally and perform above expectations. That’ll be tough to do with the No. 110 scoring offense in the country, averaging just 20.4 points per game. Only four Power 5 teams are scoring fewer.

Plus, Michigan, as mentioned, has the country’s best defense. The Wolverines are allowing just 210.6 yards per game and a ridiculous 9.3 points per game. That’s a tough task for a team with a strong offense, but the Gophers don’t have a strong offense. Michigan’s offense, meanwhile, is functioning well, as it’s put up at least 28 points in all five of its wins this season. In the wake of the Kill news, Minnesota will surely be the sympathetic rooting choice of many impartial observers, but the way Michigan’s playing this season, it looks like Jim Harbaugh will win his first Little Brown Jug as the head coach in Ann Arbor.

The pick: Michigan

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.